ID cards are dead, long live ID

As the government acts to scrap the identity card scheme, it has already begun work on a replacement.

Or working with a replacement, as the case may be. Because the alternative to megalomaniacal Labour’s flagship Big Brother project is not a government project at all. It is private.

And it’s based, appropriately, in Bethnal Green. Home of the Libertines.

That was the birth place last week of Mydex, the Community Interest Company that calls itself the world’s first personal data store.

The Cabinet Office, DWP, and Brent, Croydon and Windsor councils have joined the pilot. It will do a form of federated ID management. It’s what will get after Labour’s ID scheme is dismantled.

There’s a faction of government that has long waited for this moment, if you are to believe Mydex Chairman William Heath.

“It’s great fun talking to people in the Cabinet Office Central IT Unit who remember these plans very well,” he told the Socitm conference last week.

“Because the whole post 9/11 security agenda took online identity down a very strange path. Clearing the decks with that means the end of a lost decade. And it means we can get back to a more sensible path, which is user-centric, federated identity management.”

Business as usual

The Cabinet Office is at this very moment dusting off plans for federated identity that Heath reckons have been on the shelf since they were last government policy in 2000.

It will involve private companies validating people’s identities and issuing certificates of proof on request. Mydex has established a biographical data store of the sort that was going to form a part of the National Identity Register.

It proposes instead to put people in control of their own personal data store, deciding who can get at it, when and under what conditions.

Heath proposed it as the Big Society does personal data. Since everyone takes responsibility for managing their own data, the cost of maintaining it, the organisations required to do so, and the risk of Chinese whispers, unkempt stores and an insalubrious trade in personal data are all reduced.

The government’s Tell Us Once programme has been associated with the pilot. The DWP is working with the IPS to consider its implications for identity.

ID be back

Something like Mydex would work as an ID system storing authentication tokens provided by trusted third parties like, perhaps, the GP surgery. Or the local authority. Or indeed the IPS.

Mydex propose people will use it to get parking permits, guarantee their credentials for job applications, let people see the results of their CRB check, register births & deaths, make planning applications, prove their age, planning applications, update the electoral roll, get a TV license, and tell anyone who wants to know about a change of address.

Imagine the money saved on the census, says Heath, if it merely polled people’s personal data stores electronically.

(And imagine no longer having the embarrassment of the British democratic census being run by US defence industry giant Lockheed Martin – though it would be a convenient way to register deaths if we have the same company poll people as bomb them).

Borg authentication

What will replace Labour’s ID scheme may not be totalitarian, but it will be total.

We shall have to see how the government legislates to legitimize and perhaps obligate people to release data from their personal stores before we can see what the catch is.

The worrisome complaints the likes of No2ID and Liberty have about the Identity Documents Bill, through which the government is seeking to couch its repeal of the Identity Cards Act with provisos, give some clues as to how libertarian a future we will enjoy.

The name given it by the Harvard University project to which Mydex is connected is vendor relationship management. Heath calls it user-centric identity. There are different priorities on different sides of the pond. Meddler management will do.